Jewish Cultural Organizations
In the nineteenth century, many
assimilationists were active in the development of cultural life. The
first editions of works by A. Mickiewicz, J. Slowacki and Z. Krasinski,
as well as contemporary Positivist writers, were published in Poland
thanks to Jewish publishers. The Kronenberg family co-founded the Warsaw
Another one of Warsaw's Jewish plutocrats, responding to an appeal
by Polish patriots, bought the painting Battle of Grunwald by J.
Matejko, which also helped the painter, who was in a difficult financial
situation. There were no institutions supporting Jewish culture,
however. The first such organization was B'nai B'rith. After Poland
gained its independence, the Jewish Society for the Advancement of the
Arts (Zydowskie Towarzystwo Krzewienia Sztuk Pieknych) was founded,
whose aim was to support the arts in various ways. It helped artists,
funded stipends for students at art schools, and organized exhibitions.
Polish and Jewish writers' professional organizations were established
around the same time. During the interwar period, as part of the Warsaw
PEN club, there were also Jewish and Hebrew PEN Clubs, as well as unions
of both Jewish and Hebrew writers. Music was very important for the
Jewish community. Singing and music societies such as Ha-zomir [Hebrew,
"The Nightingale"], organized primarily by supporters of Zionism, played
a role similar to analogous Polish organizations at the turn of the
century. Running a broad range of cultural activities, from reading
rooms to organizing readings and concerts, they not only promoted music
and secular culture, but also helped raise national consciousness.
During the interwar period, Jewish schools and music courses were
founded. There were also amateur and professional orchestras, choirs,
and chamber groups. In most cities, there were Jewish musical societies
that organized concerts and other events. During the 1930's, the Jewish
Music Institute was founded.
At that time, scholarly institutions focusing
on the study of Jewish society, history and culture were also active. At
the initiative of academicians and teachers, the Institute of Judaic
Studies was founded, as well as the Yidisher Visnshaftlecher Institut.
The number of cultural institutions was an expression both of the Jewish
nation-building process, as well as something that had been imposed by
the state and inspired by the national camp, whose aim was to culturally
isolate the Jewish community. Polish organizations often refused to
help Jewish artists, and Poles did not show much interest in Jewish
culture. There were no university courses on Jewish history or Judaic
studies, and no research was done on Jewish society. Few Jewish scholars
could find work in Polish institutions of higher learning.
The Second World War interrupted the activities of Jewish cultural
organizations. Despite the unfavorable conditions, schools continued to
function in the ghettos and secret classes were organized; there were
also theaters, orchestras and cabarets. Writers and painters did their
best to continue working. In the Warsaw ghetto, there was an underground
archive, founded by E. Ringelblum, which in a limited way also tried to
help artists. Scholars tried to pursue the work they had been engaged
in before the war, treating it as a form of civil disobedience against
The Holocaust put an end to their efforts. Poland's rich, varied
Jewish cultural life virtually ceased to exist. Germans killed most of
those who had created it, and their audiences, and intentionally
destroyed all physical signs of it: historic synagogues, cemeteries,
libraries and museum collections.
After the war, the Central Historical
Commission, founded by the Central Committee of Jews in Poland, tried to
save the scattered remains of this culture. Within the Committee, there
was a Department of Culture and Propaganda, which tried to encourage
the Jewish culture that was coming back to life. Artists who survived
gathered in Jewish cultural associations, the Union of Jewish Writers,
Journalists and Artists, the Association of Jewish Musicians and
Composers in Poland, and the Union of Jewish Actors. The Jewish Society
for the Advancement of the Arts began functioning again. In 1950, it was
disbanded and the Social and Cultural Society of the Jews in Poland was
founded in its place, at the initiative of the communist authorities.
In Poland, Jewish culture was used for propaganda purposes. It
experienced a renaissance after 1956, especially among amateur
organizations. This turned out to be short-lived, however, and ended
with the communist authorities' anti-Jewish campaign in 1968. Currently,
there are two Jewish cultural institutions that continue to operate in
Poland: the State Jewish Theater and the Jewish Historical Institute.